1. Don’t let your MOS pigeonhole you
When I first got out of the military, I thought that changing careers to data science would render my military service a waste of time. What I learned was that even being an infantryman gave me a unique and valuable perspective to bring into the field of data science.
2. Don’t underestimate the value of your story
Regardless of what you did in the military, you have a unique story to tell that can capture the imagination of people who might not be familiar with the military. I’ve used that to my advantage every time I’ve written an application. I’m convinced that telling my story that got me into grad school and got me a National Science Foundation fellowship. Remember that when you apply for something, your essay is one of hundreds if not thousands that someone has to read. Make yours stand out by telling a unique story.
3. Start building your portfolio right now
This is advice I wish I would have followed earlier. For example, if you’re interested in data science, there are many ways to start right now. There are open source projects, there are publicly available datasets, there are hackathons, there are coding competitions, and there are non-profits who are looking for volunteers of all skill levels. If you teach yourself a new skill, write a blog post about it, using language that non-technical people can understand. If you’re taking a class and you get an assignment, don’t just think about your grade, but think about how you could show it off to a prospective employer. Always think in multiple dimensions and how to maximize the return on your investment of time and effort.
4. Prioritize experience over course work
Personally, if I were evaluating you as a job candidate, I would look at your portfolio before I looked at your transcript or GPA. I want to see what you can do, not what classes you’ve taken. If you’re using the GI Bill, I recommend taking a light course load so you can focus on getting practical experience; that might mean taking an unpaid internship, contributing to an open source project, or volunteering.
5. Reach out to other veterans for help
When I was job hunting, I used a free trial of LinkedIn premium to find veterans at all the companies that I wanted to work for. Or use Veterati, another great veteran mentor platform. That connection was enough to get total strangers to talk to me, explain the hiring process, and in some cases get an internal referral that lead to an interview. Even if it doesn’t lead to a job, it can lead to getting advice or finding a mentor. You can start with me. If you’re thinking of becoming a data scientist find me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, and recommend steps you can take. Find me on LinkedIn.